Blog Entries: 1 to 10 of 12
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I wonder how much more can that picture tell us about the people looking back at us from the past? How do we go about solving the mystery of their identity, our relationship to them, and pinpoint the time and location the photograph was taken? What can these photographs tell us about our ancestors’ lives, socio-economic status, and who they really were?
According to Jane Neff Rollins – a professional genealogist who specializes in Jewish genealogy – if we pay close attention to the details found in the images, we can use the various visual clues to answer all of the above questions. By employing our genealogical skills of patience, persistence, and research techniques, we can solve the mystery of who, how, why, and when our ancestors were preserved on film for all eternity. All it takes is an organized research plan, an eye for details, and a powerful magnifying glass. Think of yourself as a modern day Sherlock Holmes seeking clues to solve a mystery.
When beginning your research, note the basics of the photograph, such as:
- Is it black and white, sepia toned, hand tinted, or in color? This will narrow down the date is was taken.
- Does it have a frame or borders? Is it mounted?
- What size it the photograph?
- Is there a photographer’s imprint on the front or back? This can provide the location and date of the photo.
- Are there any personal notes or dates written on the photograph?
Your next step may be to list the questions you wish to answer about each photograph:
- Is the photograph a formal portrait? What type of background or props are pictured?
- Is it a group photograph? Does it commemorate a special occasion?
- How do clothing, hairstyles, and posture help date the photograph?
- Is it a candid or casual photo depicting our ancestors in everyday life?
Jane told us that family photo research requires an observant eye, good research techniques, and keeping good records. Just like family history research, it is important to cite your photo research sources in order to validate your findings and provide valuable reference points for further research. According to Jane, a visual history of our families is just as important as our written history.
Family photographs capture a moment in the lives of our ancestors. By familiarizing ourselves with the various techniques for identifying photographic clues, we can expand our understanding of our ancestors’ lives, incorporate them into our personal history, and bring the past to life.
“A family photograph collection is a direct link to our past – family history is, after all, about the individuals in these photographs, and images can bring the past to life and provide insights into the lives of our ancestors” (Maureen Taylor, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs, Family Tree Books, 2005).
In the past, when I have spoken with non-genealogists about researching their ancestors, they all assume that they must join Ancestry.com in order to find the answers they seek.
As experienced researchers, we know that there are many other repositories that shouldn’t be overlooked when hunting for those elusive records.
Our September presenter, Ted Gostin, explained that there are “hundreds of other websites (probably thousands)” out there that can provide valuable data usually found only on popular commercial websites such as Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.com, ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, Archives.com, JewishData.com, Arkivdigital.net, Archion.de/en/, Newspapers.com, to name but a few.
Referring back to those novice researchers mentioned above, I usually steered them toward the many free genealogy and genealogy-related websites as the place to begin. Not only would they save money, they would also learn how to find and use new sources of information that they believed was only available for a price. Ted explained to us that depending upon which website was used, different types of records are accessible, such as: indexes + documents, indexes only, index pages only and no images, and document images but no indexes. It can be rather hit or miss depending upon the site.
Ted pointed out that numerous free genealogy websites can have searchable, indexed databases of birth, baptism, marriage, death or burial records that would normally only be available with a costly membership fee. The first site he recommended is FamilySearch.org, followed by FindAGrave.com, and USGenWeb.org. However, over the years I have found many valuable sites just by googling my area of interest. A few examples of free websites I have used include: FillesduRoi.org, IrishGenealogy.ie, The Quaker Corner, Matricula.eu, RandomActsofGenealogicalKindness.org, Archive.org, and CatholicCemeteries.org.
Under the heading of state, county, and local government agencies, a search for vital records may involve an online request, fee payment, and a delay in receiving your document copies depending upon whether the data has been digitized or is still in paper form, or the size of the staff available at the time of your request. The thing to remember is that you are dealing with a governmental agency, no matter the size or the scope of their responsibilities, and the wheels of administration can turn slowly. Some websites that I have had success with are Missouri Digital Heritage, The National Archives of Ireland, NARA, Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, and West Jersey History Project. Ted recommended entering the state and county of your focus and see what sites are available. You may be pleasantly surprised what you find.
Ted noted that genealogical and historical societies can be valuable repositories of family and local history information. Depending upon the size of the organization and location, you may be able to access their information online, request copies either digitally or physical copies. Generally, historical societies focus their efforts on collecting items pertaining to the early history of the surrounding communities, especially journals, wills, deeds and land records. A few of my favorites are: St. Louis Genealogical Society, Greene County (NY) Historical Society, and The Vedder Research Library (Greene County, NY).
One final place to search for vital records might include public and university libraries that frequently house special collections accessible by permission. One such local library is The Huntington in San Marino, which houses extensive records about early California history. Searching online for the topic, individual or family may lead you to discover that they have left valuable papers with their favorite university library. These documents can contain the vital records you need to complete your research. It is worth noting that what you need may be located in any number of places, all it takes is a little creative sleuthing. Let us know if you find a free website that has helped you overcome your brick wall.
David Flint’s topic focused on English census records from 1841 to 1921, and though my most recent British Isles ancestors arrived in Canada between 1835 and 1850, I was able to learn something new to add to my genealogical knowledge. As most of my English ancestry arrived during the Great Migration time period, I rely heavily on church records and ship manifests to find the village, parish, and county of origin. Even when a document is located, I am never quite sure how to correctly list the place name, and looking through Ancestry and MyHeritage family trees it seems that other researchers have much the same problem, as location listings vary widely. David’s recommendation to use Frank Smith’s Genealogical Gazetteer of England and the FamilySearch.org catalog will go a long way to help me correct previous mistakes.
One of David’s most helpful pieces of information was defining the following headings: GREAT BRITAIN = England, Scotland and Wales; IRELAND = the entire island; UNITED KINGDOM = Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and BRITISH ISLES = everything, including the Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, and the Channel Islands. In addition to being able to locate our ancestors under the proper super-heading, our next challenge is placing them in the correct historic county as shown on the map included in David’s handout. Once we’ve located the county, then we can delve down into the parish or village level of our research. This can be the tricky part, but the key is to take each family backward, one step at a time, through the census records.
As for me, in addition to church records and ship lists, I will look for deeds and leases, wills, tax and militia lists, and court records as recommended by David to help in properly locating my pre-1841 ancestors. To aid me in avoiding future place-name mistakes, I have purchased my own copies of Frank Smith’s gazetteer and Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott’s Local Census Listings, 1522-1930: Holdings in the British Isles. Until then I’ll be hopping on the computer to dig into the resources available at FamilySearch.org.
I want to thank David for his wonderfully detailed presentation about English census records and for taking the time to answer the many engaging questions from our membership. Please let us know if you broke through a brick wall or were able to locate and trace your British ancestors back in time.
See you in September!
Our July 16th society meeting was a first for all of us. It was the first meeting at our new location at Sorensen Library, our first hybrid-style meeting, and our first “Show & Tell” of the fiscal year. I am delighted to say that, despite some kinks that we will work to smooth out, the meeting went swimmingly.
We had attendance at the meeting in person and online, eight presenters, and several members joining in with questions and observations relating to the various topics. The first presenter was Christine Cohen who told us about her paternal grandmother, Violet Odgers Johns, and her journey from Cornwall, England to Mogollon, New Mexico. Christine explored all available resources to document her route to America.
Marisa Reyes stepped up next to tell us about a new book, Mexican American Baseball in the South Bay, by Richard A. Santillán and Ron Gonzáles that contains references to her father who played in the Mexican American Baseball League. Marisa’s mother provided information to the authors before her passing, and Marisa stepped up to complete her work about the players, coaches, teams and others who “dignified the hallowed ballfields” in Los Angeles County.
Have you ever thought that you’d found everything you could about your ancestor? Well, Rick Frohling’s presentation reminded us that “When You Think You’ve Found Everything There is to Find – Take Another Look.” With ever increasing digitization of records, you may be surprised as to what you can find today compared to when you first began researching your family years ago.
An article in the WAGS July Newsletter titled “Avocado Facts & Figures” inspired Bonnie Morris to write a poem called “What is it?” about the versatile and popular green fruit. Do you have a favorite guacamole recipe? Avocado toast anyone?
I was the fifth person to give a talk about three of my great-grandfathers who fought in the Civil War and joined various posts of the Grand Army of the Republic. My 3rd great-grandfather, William Glover joined a post in Indiana, my 2nd great-grandfather, Anton Weis joined a post in Missouri, and my great-grandfather, Theodore Weed who was a member of the 44th NY Zouaves joined his post in Iowa. My research was made easier because of Christine Cohen’s June presentation about Fold3.
Detective work by Trish Stumpf-Garcia into the architectural motifs evident in an old photograph allowed her to confirm that her ancestor was in Bad Berneck, Bavaria during WWII.
Susan Astarita, registrar of the John Greenleaf Whittier Chapter of the DAR shared information about the Daughters of the American Revolution and offered her assistance in searching for ancestors and qualifying for membership. She handed out business cards and informational brochures to interested individuals.
Joining us on zoom, Stefanie Miller told us about receiving a thank you letter from the Allen County Library in Indiana after sending a large group of completed pedigree charts to them. The letter expressed thanks for preserving the records for future generations of genealogists.
Lastly, Cyndy Hartman talked briefly about her research into her Smith family from England and the frustration of researching a common name.
Thank you everyone for offering so many interesting topics and to our leadership team for daring to explore the new world of hybrid meetings. Looking forward to seeing you all next month at Sorensen Library.
Military flag folding has deep meaning. The first fold symbolizes life, the second fold represents a belief in eternal life, and the third fold honors and remembers the veterans who devoted themselves to defending our country and promoting peace throughout the world. At our June meeting, Christine Cohen presented a very interesting program about the military-focused website, www.fold3.com and how it can be a valuable source of genealogical information.
Christine told us that Fold3 offers access to military records not only for the United States, but also for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Some of the gems you can find may include stories, photos, and documents relating to your ancestors’ military service from the Revolutionary War up to the Gulf War. Christine noted that the most genealogically relevant documents are found in Service Records, Pension Files, Bounty Land Records (limited to the lucky researchers who have surnames between A and L), maps, lists of Medal of Honor recipients, Enlistment Records, and much more.
Some of the basics that can be gleaned from registration cards may include age, height, occupation, birthplace and date, and a designated contact individual. Using Christine’s roadmap, I found the February 14, 1942 WWII registration card of my grandfather, Walter Charles Weis. I found out that he was 39 years old, stood 5’11 ¾“, weighed 207 pounds, was light complected, had brown hair and gray eyes. I was sixteen years old when he died and don’t remember the color of his eyes - all my photographs of him are in black and white - so this description of his features is priceless to me. Grandpa stated he was born in St. Louis, Missouri, lived at 2912 Potomac Avenue, Los Angeles, California, was employed with the City of Los Angeles as a fireman and listed his mother, Clara, as the person who would always know his address (because she lived right across the street from grandpa and grandma). Some of this is new information for me.
At the Fold3 site you can create a Memorial Page for your ancestor free of charge. This allows us to collect a treasure trove of details, to write stories, share, collaborate, and connect with family and friends and remember those who served. It is important that we collect this information and preserve it for future generations, because it is up to all of us to see that the military service of our ancestors is not forgotten.
Christine Cohen’s presentation about the history, purpose and records of the Grand Army of the Republic organization brought to mind the early genealogical research I conducted into six of my great-, second great-, and third great-grandfathers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Early in my research, my initial goal was to locate their regiment, company, and pension status as a means to fill in the blanks of their life stories. As it turns out, though, by incorporating some of the resources provided in Christine’s handout, I was able to confirm that three of my ancestors were members of their local G.A.R. posts. I still have two other great-grandfathers who survived in the war whose membership status eludes me, but I plan to keep on digging for information.
Christine told us that the Grand Army of the Republic came about after the end of the Civil War when the surviving veterans began seeking comradeship with their fellow Union servicemen. Starting as small veteran’s clubs around the country, they coalesced into the G.A.R. in 1866 through the efforts of Benjamin Stephenson and William Rutledge who wanted an organization for soldiers who fought side by side to be able to preserve their friendships and the “memories of their common trials and dangers.” The only requirement to become a member of the G.A.R. was to be honorably discharged from military service in the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Cutter Service (like today’s Coast Guard), and to have served between 1861 and 1865.
The G.A.R. reached its largest enrollment in 1890 with close to 500,000 members in almost eight thousand posts. After the death of the last member in 1956, the G.A.R. was formally dissolved. Today, the records can be found in various libraries, university collections, historical societies, museums and online G.A.R. projects. Be sure to check out some of the online sites that Christine listed in her handout.
By following Christine’s guidelines, I was able to confirm that my paternal third great-grandfather, William Edward Glover, although a Quaker, was a member of the Jake Jackson Post #536 in Carlos City, Randolph County, Indiana. In July 1863 the Civil War had intruded into his peaceful life in the form of Confederate General John Morgan and his Raiders. William and several of his neighbors joined the 105th Regiment to repel the enemy. Later, he was drafted into the 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry and saw action at the Battle of Shiloh, among other locations. For participating in the war effort, William was suspended from membership at his Friend’s Meeting. Many years later, he was accepted back into the fold and is buried in Cherry Grove Quaker Cemetery beside his beloved wife, Ruth.
My paternal second great-grandfather, Anton Weis, a German immigrant and bricklayer by profession, became a private in the Union Army’s Sappers and Miners company (today’s Combat Engineers) in charge of tunneling, trenching, destroying railroad tracks, and mining. He later joined the Missouri 4th Cavalry and mustered out in August 1866. After the war he joined the Harry P. Harding Post #107 in St. Louis, Missouri. Anton retired from his occupation as a brick mason in 1910 and passed away in 1911 at the age of 72.
Lastly, my maternal great-grandfather, Theodore Dennis Weed, mustered in at age 19 as a private in the 44th New York Infantry, Company I, and served from September 1861 until his disability discharge due to a spinal injury in May 1862 after the Battle of Malvern Hill, Virginia. T.D., as he was called, joined the C.H. Huntley Post #42 in Mason City, Cerro Gordo, Iowa in 1881 and remained an active member until his death in 1895. He is buried with G.A.R. honors at Elmwood-St. Joseph Cemetery in Mason City.
The Grand Army of the Republic has passed into the pages of history, a mere memory of the sacrifice, devotion and patriotism of the veterans who helped to unite a divided country. Credit goes to the G.A.R. for instituting Memorial Day to keep alive in history and story, the sacrifices on the battlefield of our service members both past and present.
Since our President, Kristina Newcomer, could not attend the April General Meeting, this month’s column is being penned by our 1st Vice President and Program Chair, Christine Cohen.
WAGS had the pleasure of welcoming Dana Goolsby Jones of Generations Jones Genealogy at our April meeting. She discussed the need to examine the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of our mothers. This, along with traditional paper genealogy, shows your maternal line for thousands of years.
The only company that offers this test is Family Tree DNA. Every human being, regardless of sex, inherits mtDNA from their biological mother, but only genetic females pass on mtDNA to their offspring. It is also unique because it does not divide with each new generation or mix with the DNA of the biological father, providing an unbroken link with our maternal line.
Dana explained that all people regardless of gender can take a mtDNA test. The test should be done on the oldest generation to obtain the best results for matches. A perfect match means one may find a common ancestor in your maternal line, although the match may be from thousands of years ago.
Also, fish in every pond by downloading and transferring your raw autosomal DNA test results from:
She suggested the best resource to explain and understand is a book by Blaine Bettinger: The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, Second Edition. New York, NY, Family Tree Books, 2019. His website is https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/.
As many of us have become more and more focused on our genealogical heritage – bolstered by ever-refined DNA results – the possibility of dual citizenship as a way to further identify with our ancestry is an intriguing possibility. Gregory Beckman’s presentation about his journey to acquire dual U.S. – Italian citizenship through his great-grandfather, Tommaso Gelfusa, identified the steps he needed to follow and the “what, why and how” that led to his success.
Basically, before beginning on your own journey, it is imperative to become familiar with the various rules set up by the forty-three countries that permit dual citizenship with the United States. Historically, the United States did not permit dual citizenship prior to 1967, and it is important to remember that our government follows the ‘master nationality’ rule which means that it “recognizes only the U.S. nationality of an individual, regardless of another citizenship that the individual holds.” To aid you in determining where to begin and how to proceed, check out the following website for clarification: www.nnuimmigration.com/dual-citizenship-usa/.
What is dual-citizenship? It is defined as “the status of an individual to hold the nationality of two different countries at the same time.” This sounds pretty straight forward, but as Greg’s talk explained, the eligibility requirements can vary from country to country and fees can be prohibitive. Extensive documentation and certification will be required and, as in Greg’s case, you may have to hire a lawyer to help expedite the paperwork. There are benefits to acquiring dual-citizenship, such as feeling connected to your ancestral roots, being able to travel without a special visa, the ability to own property, and the right to work and vote. Of course, in some cases, once you have citizenship rights in a second country, you may also be required to pay taxes for any income derived while living there, and possible military obligations. Make sure you know the pluses and minuses before you begin the process.
I was curious to see if I could qualify for dual-citizenship in the countries where my most recent ancestors came from: Canada, Germany, Sweden, UK, or Ireland. All of these countries base their requirement on jus sanguinis – right of blood – and in every case except Ireland this meant a parent. Ireland extends their citizenship requirement to a grandparent. As my most recent immigrants were my great-grandmother from Canada in 1862, my 2nd great-grandfather from Germany in 1864, my great-grandparents from Sweden in 1881, my 3rd great-grandfather from England in 1835, and my 3rd great-grandmother from Ireland in 1835, I can’t qualify for dual-citizenship anywhere. At this point, the only member of my extended family who can qualify for dual-citizenship is my oldest nephew whose maternal grandfather was born in Northern Ireland and immigrated to the United States in 1923.
If you have obtained dual-citizenship, please share your journey with us at our next social half-hour in April.
I never imagined when I joined WAGS in 2001 that one day I would become a member of the Life Story Writing Group and eventually become the group facilitator. And, even though I have been researching my family history for about forty years and recording my family stories since January 2010, I am the first to admit that there is always something new to learn about the process and performance of writing – working through to the completion of a goal – that makes the act both less stressful and more rewarding.
Kimberlie Guerrieri’s presentation on Writing About Your Family History – Strategies and Tips for Storytelling demonstrated that writing about our family history in story form doesn’t have to be a daunting experience, and can preserve our genealogical research in a way that is infinitely more memorable and shareable. Her talk explored the process of writing by applying her easy-to-use five-step formula to get us started on the road to storytelling success.
Kimberlie stressed that we need to write about ourselves and our ancestors so that we – and they – will not be forgotten. If we don’t share our hard-earned knowledge, then who will? Storytelling is one way to preserve and make ‘family accessible’ all of the research data that we have been gathering over a lifetime of pouring over documents, stalking through graveyards, recording sources, and searching through archives. After all, what good are dry facts – no matter how accurate and important they may be – if they are only of interest to other genealogists and leave our family members only mildly connected or outright bored?
By using Kimberlie’s five-step formula we can turn those dry facts into brilliant stories, biographical sketches, a family history book, a photo book, family newsletter, memoir, blog or social media post. She suggested that to succeed we need to make writing a ritual, set a timer and focus on our project for 15 – 30 minutes a day. The key to success is to go one step at a time and set ourselves achievable goals. Choose our subject, write one simple sentence and then build on our story by adding additional details, editing, revising, polishing and sharing our stories. After all, isn’t the goal of genealogical research to preserve for posterity the lives of our ancestors? Storytelling is just one more aspect of how we can share our ancestors’ lives with their descendants.
Above all, remember that the more we write, the more we’ll get our creative juices flowing, the more our writing skills will improve, and the more our audience will be engaged. Best of all, our ancestors will live on through our storytelling.
For more writing tips contact Kimberlie Guerrieri at email@example.com, and join the WAGS Life Story Writing Group on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month for motivation and friendly sharing.
According to songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb, “money makes the world go around” whether it’s eights, reals, livres or crowns. (That last part is my contribution.) Mark Cross’s detailed presentation on Colonial Currency: New Money in a New Country explained how the evolution of currency – in all its various forms – during the early years of our colonization had a profound effect on relations between Great Britain and the American colonies.
I found it fascinating to learn that in addition to trade and barter, our early ancestors used wampum – cut and polished sea shells – as a medium of exchange for goods and services. I had always assumed that wampum was a made-up word used in early black and white westerns on television. Although created by the indigenous tribes of the Northeastern woodlands, wampum was used in the same way that early colonists used French livres, Spanish pieces of eight, Portuguese reals, or the rare British crown when available.
Mark detailed how the British Parliament’s harshly restrictive laws with regard to currency in the colonies led several to begin printing their own ‘paper money’ beginning in 1690 and lasting until our independence from British rule. By printing their own money, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and other colonies were openly defying the King and setting themselves up for harsh penalties. In order to rebuild their empty coffers after years of war with France, Britain imposed the Stamp Act of 1765 – a catch-22 situation in which unattainable coin was needed to pay royally created taxes – thus angering the colonies to the point where revolution was the only answer.
After the revolutionary war, we still didn’t have a standard national currency, and several states continued to print their own money. It wasn’t until the 1790s that we began minting our own silver dollars based upon the decimal system. Eventually, the dollar became the accepted form of currency in the United States. Over time, currencies have adapted to the capricious nature of the marketplace and the simple silver dollar has been joined by paper bills, checks, electronic deposits, credit cards, and now cryptocurrency. What the future holds for traditional money is anyone’s guess.
Cindy Lauper wrote that “money changes everything,” but it seems to me that everything (marketing and technology) is changing money!